Essex County, vol. 1: Tales from the Farm
by Jeff Lemire
Top Shelf, $9.95
Tales from the Farm, the first volume in Jeff Lemire's proposed Essex County Trilogy, is an impressive, heartbreaking work.
Ten-year-old Lester, recently orphaned, has been sent to live on his uncle's farm in Southwestern Ontario. Lester is one of those sensitive boys who doesn't really fit in anywhere. He likes to read comics and dress up in a mask and cape. Uncle Ken doesn't know what to do with Lester--he only took the boy in because of a deathbed promise to his sister.
Lester strikes up an unusual friendship with Jimmy, the cashier at the gas station convenience store where Lester buys his comics. Jimmy was once a player in the NHL, but a vicious check ended his career and left him not quite right in the head.
Tales from the Farm has a timeless quality about it. The feeling in the story is of one that happened some time ago (the only hint we have is that Lester remarks that comics cost more than a dollar), but it really could be any time.
Lemire's art fits the mood and style of the story perfectly. It reminds me of characters by Ted McKeever living in a landscape drawn by Danijel Zezelj. It's all heavy on inks and appropriate dreary, though the flashback scenes are done in a watered style and there's a five-page section in the middle meant to be a comic that Lester has drawn, taken from a comic that Lemire actually did when he was nine-years-old.
Toss in a strange and ambiguous ending and you get a very satisfying comic experience. I won't be surprised to find Tales from the Farm on several lists of the year's best (including my own).
Rating: 4 (of 5).
A review copy of Tales from the Farm was provided by the publisher.